6 Thoughts On The Retirement of Rafael Mendes (One For Each World Championship)

1. I completely understand his reasoning. Training and competing at the highest level takes so much time, energy, commitment, and resources that a young father with a successful academy and his health probably should be thinking about moving on to other challenges.

2. As a fan of jiujitsu and of Rafael Mendes, I’m sad he didn’t get to 10, so we could have endless debates about Rafa and Roger Gracie. These debates will still happen — and in the coming days, after the dust settles, we’ll analyze where Rafa ranks among the greatest of all time — but I would have liked the symmetry.

 

3. I’m incredibly grateful to have had the chance to watch Rafael compete over the years. More so than his dominance, the pure grace with which he dominated was a pleasure to watch. During almost every Rafael Mendes match, from his epic battles with Cobrinha to his fluid, efficient victories over competitive black belts that he made look like drilling partners, you had the sense you were watching something special.This no doubt has something to do with when I started watching jiujitsu seriously, which coincided with Rafa’s ascendance. Watching greatness is always interesting. Watching Roger dominate was awe-inspiring, too. But to me, watching a Rafael Mendes match was like seeing the creativity of a once-in-a-generation painter, or a gifted poet.

In many matches, it almost looked like he was waiting for the opponent to catch up.

 

4. I’m even more grateful for having the chance to train with him at the seminars he taught at Triangle Jiu-Jitsu. A recreational basketball player almost never gets the chance to shoot around with LeBron or Jordan. But after making a bunch of phone calls and rallying a bunch of excited people, we got to spend several days learning from the contemporary best in the world. What’s better than that?

5. We can say with confidence that Rafael Mendes is one of the best ever. His competition resume is truly phenomenal — six IBBJF world championships, the most ever from a featherweight, two ADCC championships. He’s never been submitted in competition and is the only man to submit the legendary Cobrinha other than the much-larger Rodolfo Vieira. Where exactly he ranks in the pantheon I want to pause and consider before assessing.

6. I’m truly sad that I’ll never get to see Rafael Mendes compete again. This is a reaction I share, I’m sure, with many others. This reaction is more pronounced because the IBJJF worlds is next week, and I was looking forward to seeing another virtuoso performance.It hasn’t really sunk in yet that I won’t get to.

It’s a great time to be alive, and there are more opportunities to watch great jiujitsu now than ever before. This is a tremendous gift. But without trying to overstate the case, today is also the end of an era.

How to Watch the IBJJF Mundials, and Who To Watch Locally

The IBJFF world championship, the Mundials, is generally regarded as the most prestigious tournament for gi Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It’s competitors of the highest order and a who’s who of the sport’s royalty.

On the podcast this week, we talk about why this is an event that every jiujitsu practitioner should attend at least once. Seeing that many elite competitors and legends of the art in the same place is a one-of-a-kind experience — so in person is always going to be the best way to watch. But not everyone is in that position, and even if you’ve made the trip, chances are that you’re not making the trip every year.

So what is the best way to watch the Mundials — or at least keep track of the results — if you can’t make the trip? I have a method that I talk about on the show and that I want to share here. (It’s actually two methods, but one involves a Flograppling subscription, and one is absolutely free albeit less satisfying). Continue reading

PODCAST: Mundial preview for North Carolina and Beyond

Who should I watch at the Mundials, the jiujitsu world championship coming up in 10 days? If I can’t go in person, how can I watch and follow along? We have you covered with a preview, where we highlight the local competitors to watch at EVERY belt level. Plus, learn my nerdy method to make sure you don’t miss a minute of the action and you get the latest results even if you can’t attend! We also congratulate some folks on belt promotions, performances at US Grappling Greensboro, and trips to the MMA cage.

Thanks as always to our sponsors, US Grappling, Toro BJJ, and Cageside Fight Co.! Register online at usgrappling.com to compete at US Grappling Richmond on June 27, and if you need gi or nogi gear to compete, find the best products at cageside.com!

What I Tell Every BJJ Competitor Before I Coach Them In a Tournament Match

Over the years, I’ve cornered a lot of my friends and training partners in hundreds of jiujitsu matches. Everyone’s style of doing this is slightly different, and I think establishing clear expectations for what’s about to happen is useful. Now that we have a crop of new white belts about to embark on their competition journey for the first time, I thought I’d aggregate the spiel I usually give into one post. I haven’t given all this as one speech before, but all of this is advance advice I have actually given competitors before coaching them. Good luck to everyone competing at US Grappling Charlotte, and if you’re competing for Triangle Jiu-Jitsu, give this a read before you find yourself with me in your corner. 

 

You’re about to have an exceptional experience. 99.9 percent of the human population will never do this, and it’s going to be exhilarating. You should be proud of yourself for signing up and whatever happens out there, you’ll be better because you did.

This is your experience. What you do in this match will be your achievement. I’m just here to help. We always want to win. And I want my coaching to help, not hurt, so here are the things you need to know.

I’m going to be giving you information and advice throughout the match. For one thing, I’ll be keeping track of the time and points for you, so you don’t have to. This will help you make strategic decisions about what you do. These will be the cold, hard facts: neither of us can change the fact that there are 90 seconds left, or that we’re up 2 points and down an advantage.

Most of my advice will be in terms of options. Ideally, I know your complement of techniques pretty well. If you come to my classes or we train together, I should have a good idea of the moves you’re best at. I want to encourage you to do those moves, to point out opportunities you might miss, or to just give you a few options about how to proceed (i.e., “We can pull guard here if we want, but if you want to shoot, the single leg is there”). This helps you know that there’s more than one door in front of you, and ideally it also avoids telling your opponent what you’re going to do (“she’s gonna pull guard!”). At times if I see you setting something up, I’ll say “I like it!” for exactly the same reasons.

Coaching is important! Andrey Alexandrov gets some high-quality technical instruction here from his coach, Seth Shamp.

My main goal will be to get you to safe spots, hubs where you can control your opponent and decide what the best plan of attack is. If I see the chance to get us to one of those spots, I will advise you to get your grips and settle there.

If I don’t know your game well and you ask me to coach you, I’m happy to, but let’s have realistic expectations of each other. I will still give you the best possible information I can — maybe I can see that your opponent is opening her guard when you can’t see it, and I want to let you know that — but in terms of tactical advice, I may just tell you what I would do there. This may or may not be what you should do there, because our jiujitsu may be different. Therefore:

I won’t be offended if you ignore my technical suggestions. It’s you out there, not me. Maybe you see or feel something in the moment that means you shouldn’t do what I want you to do — like maybe your base is compromised, and if you try to pass the way I want you to, you know you’ll get swept. Or maybe you’d like to do what I want you to do, but you don’t know the move well enough to execute it with confidence. Maybe you just get tunnel vision. That’s fine: we’ll debrief after the match about what you chose to do and why, and what we need to work on for next time (including, maybe, our communication!). Don’t think I’m going to be frustrated with you if you don’t do exactly what I say: I will trust that you are trying, and please trust that I am trying to give you the best advice I can, too.

Sometimes, I will shout firm and definitive advice. This means I am 100 percent certain that this is what you should do, so please try to do it. If you can’t do it, because you don’t understand or because you can’t execute it for whatever reason, I won’t be upset with you, but if you hear me yelling something like “we’ve got to put our knee in the middle next time so he doesn’t re-close the guard” or “you need to let go of that grip and shrimp away, right now,” I strongly encourage you to try to do it.

I probably won’t yell. It’s not really my style, and I think it’s usually counterproductive. I want you to do the best possible jiujitsu move, which means I want you to be cerebral and technical. If you’re a beast that can jump out of the gym and always outlast your opponent with cardio, awesome: feel free to do that, and you probably don’t need my counsel anyway.

Don’t forget to have fun out there, killer. We want to win. We always want to win: it’s the objective, and it’s always more enjoyable than losing. But you get to do jiujitsu today, and your body is healthy enough for you to go out and have an experience that almost nobody else gets to in this life. There’s nothing better than a day doing this, and you have that chance today. What’s better than that?